Is Slavin’s Contract Skjei’s Ceiling?

In signing top defender Jaccob Slavin to a long-term contract, the Carolina Hurricanes has brought more clarity to the big picture surrounding Brady Skjei’s next deal. While we’ve pontificated about what it might cost to sign Skjei before, Slavin’s contract provides another valuable barometer; one that Rangers’ GM Jeff Gorton will certainly leverage when working to extend Skjei.

Slavin is still a relative unknown, but the 23-year-old has quickly grown into a top defender. With 34 points, a +23 rating and a team-leading 23:26 per game with an offensive zone start (oZS) rate of just 47.6%, the Denver native cemented himself as Carolina’s number one defenseman last season. Those numbers are strong on their own, but he especially sets himself apart in expected goal generation.

Those numbers put him in some elite company.

While Skjei’s point production was phenomenal last year (1.68 points per 60 minutes (pp/60), 10th among all defensemen and second among rookies), he hasn’t quite reached top-pair status. That means, assumedly, that Gorton will leverage Slavin’s contract as a ceiling, rather than a benchmark. Part of Skjei’s production stems from his favorable oZS of 58.8% and lack of a heavy defensive burden. It’s hard to compare him to Slavin when he played nearly six fewer minutes per game and wasn’t featured on the penalty kill, where the ‘Cane saw more than 3:00 per night.

In that vein, Skjei isn’t really one of Slavin’s contemporaries, as CapFriendly pointed out.

Those with similar salaries and ages to Slavin—namely Hampus Lindholm and Rasmus Ristolainen—are also their team’s top defender. In that sense, they also represent a ceiling for Skjei’s next contract. That’s not a knock on Skjei, especially since he’s stuck behind Ryan McDonagh on the depth chart, but it does push his value more towards Shayne Gostisbehere, even if he’s a more well-rounded player.

All things considered, Gorton should hammer the fact that, quite simply, Skjei isn’t a top-pair defender when the two camps come to the negotiating table and it’s hard to imagine Skjei’s singular season of point production getting him up over the $5 million per year mark.

But while it would behoove Gorton to use these numbers to lock Skjei up long-term right now, Skjei might be better off waiting until next season to sign. A bet on himself and a bigger role with the Blueshirts that would bring a significant increase in TOI could get Skjei closer to the $5.3 million range. With a steady production rate and 21:00 per night—giving him just shy of 50 points—next year, Slavin’s contract could shift from a ceiling to, at the very list, an expectation. Should Skjei increase his production and join the NHL’s elite blueline point-producers, it might even become his floor.

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